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Thursday, September 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:13 P.M.

Close-up
"Outing" as weapon divides gay community

By The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times

DANIEL HULSHIZER / AP
New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, with his wife and mother, right, at his side, outs himself and announces his resignation at an August news conference. Aides said a man with whom he had an affair had demanded millions to keep quiet.
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WASHINGTON — The accusation appeared on a Web site in August: A conservative Republican congressman, Edward Schrock of Virginia, was secretly gay. It was picked up by other Web sites, and on Monday, Schrock withdrew his bid for re-election, saying only that his campaign could no longer focus on his district's issues.

The Web posting was the latest move in an intensified campaign by gay activists to fight what they perceive as anti-gay legislation by "outing" lawmakers they believe to be gay and who vote for the measures, including the Federal Marriage Amendment, that would amend the Constitution to say that only men and women can enter into a legal marriage.

The outing campaign is the most recent move in a battle between some gay activists who decry the hypocrisy of closeted gays who support the amendment or work for lawmakers who back it and those who assail the tactic as an invasion of privacy.

It comes as Republicans have ratified a platform at their party convention in New York supporting President Bush's call for the amendment, which would effectively ban same-sex marriage.

The Gay, Lesbian & Allies Senate Staff Caucus has decried the outing campaign, calling it "counterproductive."

Rep. Ed Schrock was accused of gay trysts.
"We are troubled by this idea that staffers must agree with their bosses on every issue or they are somehow 'hypocrites' and should, consequently, be harassed," the group says on its Web site.

Steven Fisher, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest advocacy group for gay, bisexual and transgender issues, said his organization opposes using "sexual orientation as a weapon."

Christopher Barron, political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group, said, "We disagree strongly with the outing campaign, but we also strongly disagree with President Bush's sponsorship of the anti-family Federal Marriage Amendment. It is all very unfortunate."

"Distraction from real issues"

The debate over the outing campaign intensified after Schrock, who represents the conservative military cities of Norfolk and Hampton Roads, abruptly said Monday he would not seek re-election to a third term.

Schrock's announcement came after Michael Rogers, a gay-rights activist in Washington, posted on his Web site a recording of a phone call that he said was placed by Schrock to a gay dating service several years ago.

Rogers never offered proof that the voice was Schrock's. Yet Rogers put the claim on his Web site, and over two weeks the years-old rumor took on a life of its own. Though no one else stepped up to say it was true and Schrock never discussed the report, its posting on the Internet was enough to provoke Schrock's resignation.

Tuesday night, Republicans in Virginia's 2nd District chose Thelma Drake of Norfolk to replace him on the Nov. 2 ballot. She will face Democrat David Ashe, an Iraq war veteran.

Schrock, 63, a retired Navy captain who is married, did not comment on Rogers' accusations. His office issued a written statement saying that his decision to withdraw from the race was spurred by unspecified accusations that have "called into question" his ability to serve in Congress.

A House GOP leadership aide who spoke on condition that he not be identified said Tuesday that Schrock's "initial instinct was to fight this thing tooth and nail, but [he] wound up deciding that he didn't want to drag his family through it."

But Rogers said, "The fact that [Schrock] didn't comment on this for 11 days made me think: Wow, this is really true. It's the whole no-comment thing."

Tom Gordy, Schrock's chief of staff, refused to discuss the congressman's sexuality. "I am not going to answer that," he said when asked whether Schrock was gay or bisexual.

Gordy would neither confirm nor deny the claims on Rogers' Web site but said: "The congressman believes that these allegations would have been a distraction from the real issues. ... It was obvious that they would have been the center of the campaign."

Schrock is not granting interviews and was traveling with his son and wife, who were "aware of the situation" and were supportive, Gordy said.

When asked why Schrock decided to step down after two terms even though there appeared to be no airtight evidence linking him to the allegations, Gordy said that "Ed Schrock is a fighter" but that his decision "boiled down to the fact that he wanted to protect his family."

He said Schrock was not pressured by national or local Republicans to step down.

Rogers said he was angered by stands Schrock, a Vietnam veteran, had taken on gay-rights issues, including co-sponsoring the proposed constitutional amendment that would bar same-sex marriages and his outspoken opposition to gays in the military.

Rogers scoffed at any suggestion that the congressman might have been misidentified on the audio.

"When is the last time a congressman resigned over baseless allegations?" Rogers said. "If the congressman believes it is untrue, I welcome him to file a libel or slander suit against me."

Rogers said he is determined to expose officials who vote against gay rights while maintaining a secret gay life and to reveal the sexual orientation of closeted gay staff members who work for lawmakers who support anti-gay legislation.

"This is about exposing hypocrisy," he said.

Rogers promised more outings of members of Congress and the Bush administration before the Nov. 2 elections. He said he will also expose lawmakers who have had extramarital affairs.

Schrock is among 127 House sponsors of the marriage amendment. The Senate blocked the measure last month; the House is expected to vote on it this fall.

Schrock also voted last month for a House-approved bill designed to let state courts, rather than federal courts, decide whether states should recognize out-of-state marriages between people of the same sex.

The McGreevey case

The Schrock resignation came just weeks after New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, a Democrat, outed himself and announced his resignation, saying he had an affair with a man that had left him vulnerable to "false allegations and threats of disclosure." The resignation is to take effect Nov. 15.

At an Aug. 12 news conference, McGreevey, the married father of two, revealed, with his wife by his side: "My truth is that I am a gay American."

Sources within McGreevey's administration identified Golan Cipel, a former aide, as the man involved and said he had threatened to publicize his affair with McGreevey and had demanded millions to keep quiet.

Cipel, for his part, denied he was gay, claimed he was sexually harassed by McGreevey and indicated he would sue. On Monday, however, Cipel said he would not sue, adding that McGreevey's resignation announcement was sufficient admission of wrongdoing and he wished to spare New Jersey taxpayers the financial burden of any damages.

"They declared war"

As with McGreevey, some political activists in Schrock's district said it had long been rumored Schrock might be gay. Indeed the claim Schrock pursued gay trysts had been presented to journalists and political opponents as far back as three years ago and had never found its way into print.

"When he ran for re-election a few years ago, there was a little bit of whispering," said Jim Polk, former vice chairman of the Virginia Beach Republican Committee, now working on the Ralph Nader presidential campaign. "Several Republicans were saying, "If that's true, we need to get him out of there.' ... It just didn't go anywhere at the time. People were hesitant to bring it up."

Rogers, 40, a fund-raising consultant, said he started his Web site, www.blogACTIVE.com, in July after Bush announced his support of the constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.

Rogers said an anonymous tipster sent him a recording of the call reportedly made by the congressman. Rogers said he called the lawmaker's office several times but was hung up on.

John Aravosis, a Washington political consultant, runs another Web site, www.DearMary.com, which encourages supporters to write Vice President Dick Cheney's openly lesbian daughter, Mary, entreating her to lobby her father against Bush administration policies.

Aravosis said the White House all but invited the outing tactic by endorsing the constitutional amendment.

"They declared war," he said. "We're not going to respond with a hug."

Schrock's decision inspired a mixture of bemusement and anger in his home district.

He was described by many constituents as an effective and likable lawmaker, one who showed up at civic meetings and talked to residents personally on a range of issues from development to immigration. He appears to have had a strong following among Republicans who identified with his military background.

Many of the nearly 20 people interviewed said that they refused to believe the rumors and that there was no proof behind the accusations. But they said Schrock did the right thing for the local and national GOP by dropping out immediately.

Lenny Ransdell, 58, a wholesale buyer from Virginia Beach, said, "This is not the way that politics should be played. But then you have Schrock who did the honorable thing by stepping aside and thinking about the party first."

Material from The Associated Press, Reuters and The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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